Big Mistakes You Can Make When Selling Your Home

by Camilla Cheung on 14 November 2011 6 comments
Photo: nruboc

My husband and I were recently in the market for a home, and we spent several weeks viewing condos and houses. In our dealings with sellers and their agents, we began to notice certain common mistakes that put us off considering the purchase of these homes. Buyers can be “scared off” by unprofessionalism on the part of the listing agent, cosmetic problems in the home, and other pitfalls.

I spoke to Markus Brown, a real estate agent in Orange County, California, about the top mistakes that sellers make when trying to sell their homes. If you are considering putting your home on the market, be sure to avoid these home-selling blunders. (See also: 5 Tips to Sell Any Home Fast)

1. Not Interviewing Multiple Agents

Brown explains, “The sad truth is that many people will spend more time researching what point-and-shoot camera to buy than the agent they choose to help them sell a home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Your choice in a real estate agent can have an enormous impact on your ability to sell your home. Don’t go with the first face you see on a billboard at the bus stop. Make your wants and goals clear to potential agents and judge whether they are competent or not. While what goes into interviewing and choosing an agent merits another article in itself, meeting several potential agents can help you to make your decision.

Good agents are worth their fees and are confident of their value. Be wary of anyone who isn’t willing to spend time with you and explain the details behind selling your home. Ask the agent for referrals from other clients, and be well-informed yourself so that you know the right questions to ask.

2. Not Preparing Your Home for Showings

Your home should be in perfect repair and spotlessly clean for every single showing. Buyers don’t know (or care) whether your home was clean yesterday, or whether you had a bad morning. What matters is what they see when they walk through the door. We’ve been in homes where the owners didn’t bother to clean up the cereal boxes or breakfast dishes, and in one home, a member of the family was actually still in bed when we entered the bedroom. Needless to say, we left in a hurry.

Your home should be decluttered, and to a certain extent, depersonalized. That means taking down the walls of family photos, cleaning up piles of junk mail, and removing the kids’ art from the fridge. Potential buyers should be able to visualize themselves and their belongings in the home.

Brown advises sellers that it is worthwhile to fix some of the little things around your home. Chipping paint, missing grout, broken outlet covers, scuffs in the paint — these are all cheap fixes but if not addressed, will send the impression that the home “needs work” and will deter potential buyers.

Sellers should not be present for showings, so after letting buyers in, go outside while they are viewing your home. Having the occupant of the house at home prevents buyers from talking freely and from exploring every inch of the space. It creates an awkward situation where buyers want to leave quickly.

3. Not Preparing Yourself Emotionally

Sellers are understandably emotionally attached to their homes and often feel that their homes are special. They may feel discouraged when they receive low-ball offers or when a home takes a long time to sell. Being realistic about the market and focusing on your end goal will help to combat some of this pessimism.

4. Not Being Available for Showings

We’ve contacted sellers who were unwilling to work around our schedule. Sometimes the seller needed to run errands or go shopping and was not available to prepare the home for showing or to let us into the property. Buyers won’t coddle you while trying to coordinate their schedules with their agents as well as with you; they’ll simply move on to the next house. Showings by appointment only should be avoided, as they create the need to coordinate more people’s schedules.

5. Inadequate Marketing

According to Brown, “Photographs of your home are the core of your home’s marketing exposure.” Your photos create the first, and sometimes most lasting, impression of your home, so make sure they’re good. In one horror story we’ve heard, someone actually posted a listing with the masking tape outline of a body on the floor clearly visible in the photo.

Photographs taken by a professional photographer are cheap (around $100) and are absolutely worth it when you consider the value of your property. On your online listing, your agent should upload as many pictures as the listing allows. In addition, make sure your agent has a reciprocal agreement with other agents in the area, allowing other agents to bring buyers to view your home. If your area has an MLS (Multiple Listing Service), make sure the listing information on the MLS also gets listed on Zillow, Redfin, and other real estate websites.

6. Unrealistic Pricing

Price your home too high, and many buyers won’t even see it when they search real estate listings. For instance, my husband and I searched for homes under a certain price range (let’s say, $300,000). Any homes listed for $309,000 didn’t even show up on our search. Homes at $299,999 did.

Sellers who have an emotional attachment to their homes may price their homes too high because they perceive them as being better than comparable homes on the market. You need to look at your home objectively and realize that buyers are comparing your home to even the lowest-priced short sale properties in your neighborhood.

7. Lack of a Focused Objective

When you’re selling your home, you should focus on why you want to sell your house. What is your objective? Do you need to sell your home so that you can retire, change careers, or otherwise move on with your life?

Too often, Brown says, sellers get so focused on the price of their homes that they forget about their ultimate goals. For example, if a perfect buyer comes along with a pre-approved loan and offers a few thousand dollars under the asking price, often sellers will get so caught up with trying to get their asking price that they don't consider the offer. Because they are so focused on those few thousand dollars, they are unable to achieve their goals, and they continue to be unhappy in their situations. Ultimately, when you’re selling your home, you need to know what you want, and why, to move forward to achieve that goal.

Have you sold (or bought) a home recently? What tips would you give to people who want to sell their home?

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Meg Favreau's picture

I've only looked at houses as a renter, but I'm amazed by how some people leave their properties and still expect people to want to live in them. I toured one house that looked like the tenants had bolted in the night -- trash strewn everywhere, a calendar still on the wall. Another house seemed nice and clean enough, until you got to the basement -- people had broken in and tagged it with spray paint.

Camilla Cheung's picture

I KNOW! It's not only appalling how some people LEAVE their properties, but even more gross when you think how people have been LIVING! My grandparents are landlords, and they've had to clean up some pretty nasty messes.

Guest's picture

It is shocking to me how some people put absolutely no preparation into selling their house. My neighbors are a prime example. House is 3000 square feet, but loaded with pink carpet and paneling. They are asking a ridiculously high price for the house too, I just don't get it. No curb appeal either.

If you are going to expect top dollar in this market, your house better be special!

Meg Favreau's picture

Ha! Maybe they're hoping it'll have kitsch value. I have some friends who live in what looks like a totally normal townhome on the outside, but on the inside it's a perfectly preserved swinging 70s pad. Orange kitchen cupboards, striped shag carpeting, a bar hidden in the wall panels, and a king-sized bed with the bedroom's light switches built into the frame are all part of the spot.

Guest's picture

Great advice! We just had our house on the market, and we received lots of positive feedback on our house regarding our staging. We went through our house, cleaned up the clutter and many of our personal photos so that people could picture themselves (not just us :) living in the house, and arrange and rearranged the furniture until every room had a good flow and maximized the space. We definitely recommend staging to show off your house to its greatest advantage!

Julie Rains's picture

wow -- things haven't changed much in the 15 or so years since I bought my house. In one area, people were almost always home during the showings, which I thought was very odd.

Now that I have kids though, I can see how selling a house -- getting it ready, arranging times, etc. -- can be difficult; still, for such a large purchase, it would help to make things comfortable for the potential buyer.